In my last column, I said I was finally ready to see The Last Jedi.
Life got in the way: Moving, then holiday travel, and still cleaning out the old place.
I also had to gin up my Star Wars enthusiasm again as Disney sinks its year-over-year growth ethos into Lucasfilm, a place that already was a progenitor of our ever expansionist, toyetic, blockbuster machine that runs pop culture now.
The Force Awakens was a happy reunion with the old guys and introduction to the new ones. And I was looking forward to the “A Star Wars Story” anthology films as a place in which filmmakers could explore the Galaxy and get weird, pulling away from the main story to give us new things.
But what did we get? A movie about the Rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans that got tinkered with a ton. (Rogue One was enjoyable, but that’s not the point.) A Young Han Solo movie might have been rescued from snoozeville (I don’t love Han Solo that much) by LEGO Movie and Last Man on Earth weirdos Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, but they were kicked off the film and replaced by Ron Howard.
Amid Disney somehow giving us even more Star Wars saturation (Nissan’s the official car of Star Wars? Nissan?), I also had to silence in my mind the loud minority of NerdMAGA geekholes who think fandom equals ownership. You know, the idiots who hate the new stuff because it has women in it.
But I had faith in Rian Johnson, whose auteur visions in Brick and Looper stretched the logic genre conventions to places that appear extreme and radical, but remain tethered to the original core idea. How would that mind handle Star Wars, if left alone to do his thing?
I loved the film. It aims big, it swings big, and it hits big. The Last Jedi was by turns weird, thrilling, operatic, a little all over the place, and … giant. A grand accomplishment for a film that wrapped a meta commentary on Star Wars into an artful blockbuster.
Here are some thoughts I had about it – some while watching it, some afterward.
What am I watching right now?
I couldn’t stop thinking this in the theater, for multiple reasons. Not only the visuals, but the high drama.
The Last Jedi gives us so much, and then more. I hadn’t feel that overjoyed with cup-runneth-over immensity since The Return of the King – 15 years (!!!) ago.
When Vice Admiral Holdo split Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship asunder via hyperspace, I whispered “What?!?” as the sound dropped. This already was after my expectations of Rey and Snoke battling through Episode IX and Snoke’s mystery being revealed were also cut in two, literally.
Yoda returned, and my heart melted from the true fan service: he was a puppet again. A tangible, shot in camera, practical puppet. No needless CGI. He’s right there. I nearly cried.
My heart leapt in my throat seeing Luke Skywalker emerge from a wall of fire, like every apocalyptic, final-battle vision from my childhood years of action figure playtime. The moment, when it finally came, was earned emotionally through great characterization, plotting, and performance.
Have you ever wanted to see a Jedi brawl with lightsabers? No, not the stuff from the prequels when they’re slicing a bunch of tiny, CGI robots. We’re talking melee fighting, with lightsabers, and full-sized human beings.
A New Hope gave me a great, weird nightclub in space. Attack of the Clones gave me a craptastic ‘50s-style space diner for no reason. But The Last Jedi gave me a glamorous casino royale in space that goes to ground level and shows us palpable exploitation and corruption upholding the beautiful lie.
But Rian Johnson put his foot down early when he gave us Leia floating in space, nearly out of air and freezing up, until with a wave of her hand she flies to safety.
The sequence was big and gorgeous and stunning. It felt radical and new to the point of feeling wrong. Yet it wasn’t.
We know Leia is a Skywalker, we know this line is strong with the Force. We know she has the gift; Luke tells us in Return of the Jedi. We know that Luke likely would have helped her hone those powers. The Force allows you to pull objects to you, so it can work the other way around. If the Force can let you be a ghost around the Galaxy to follow specific people, it can keep someone alive in the vacuum of space long enough to get to safety.
All these particulars work to make the Leia sequence ring true. But c’mon, guys: How long have we waited to see Leia use the Force?!?
NerdMAGA gets laughed at, again!
One of the most interesting things about this new trilogy is how it is Star Wars made by people who grew up on Star Wars. Thusly, the new characters are people who also grew up on Star Wars.
And it’s obvious what these creators think of a certain swath of geeks who focus all their energy on the stuff that looks cool while ignoring all the feelings. Look at the First Order, those maroons! They fanboy out on the Galactic Empire so much that they essentially are doing immature fan-fiction on the old material.
“What if our AT-ATs crouch a little bit to look bulkier and meaner?” “Our officers should dress in all black!” “Ooh – ooh – let’s do Stormtroopers, but make them tougher! And what if one of them … is all chrome! Yeeeaaaahhhh … pass the Cheetos. Mommm! We’re outta Cheetos!”
The Force Awakens featured a guy in his Darth Vader cosplay outfit lecturing a woman about what Star Wars means.
And The Last Jedi keeps on with this theme. How about that Dreadnought ship, all hulking and overcompensating menace? Yeesh. No wonder Poe Dameron sees it and pranks Hux on the comms with a your-mom bit.
Growing up with Star Wars means growing up
Speaking of Poe, he spends a lot of the movie failing at being Han Solo. Sure, he’s take-charge, full of bluster, flies by the seat of his pants, a great pilot, and handsome with a great head of hair. He also ends up getting all the bomber ships destroyed and crews killed to start the film. And he’s so intent on just blowing stuff up that he must be chastised by the older women in charge of him until he starts using his head more.
Rey idolizes Luke Skywalker and lived in the wreck of an old AT-AT. But upon meeting her hero, she gets her heart broken. He’s no grand Jedi master lifting mountains and slinging his lightsaber. He’s not the man who defeated Darth Vader. He’s a grumbly hermit in self-exile saying the Jedi knights were a failure and yelling at his fangirl to get a life.
Like the Jedi who mentored him, Luke spends the end of his life old, crotchety and alone. And like his father before him, Luke’s hubris gets the better of him, he makes a cruel mistake of drastic overcorrection that sets off a chain of terrible events, and he then wallows that it’s too late for him to change and be redeemed.
As we grow up with Star Wars, we grow up. Perspectives shift, and details unexplored rise in greater relief later.
Of course we get the standard story of a grizzled old fighter and an idealistic young one who pushes the former out of disillusionment to make one last ride to save the day. Except that this old man and young ward are both self-centered and full of self-loathing that stems from the deprivations of their lowly stations. They’re nothing people from nowhere planets who felt they were destined for something more and went rushing toward anything that could take them away. No wonder the Dark Side place on the island is a mirror.
And yes, it’s thoroughly satisfying when Yoda returns and gives Luke that last push to think beyond himself and heeding his own lesson that the Force keeps going without the Jedi. We get out suped-up Jedi Super Saiyan Luke Skywalker, walking in front of a wall of fire. He takes on Kylo Ren in a badass lightsaber duel, diverting the First Order so that the rebels can escape.
And then Rian Johnson reveals his best trick of the film: this amazing Super Skywalker is an illusion, a Force astral projection. The Last Jedi just gave me all the amazing Luke stuff straight out of Dark Empire, filling a fanboy hole in my life, only to tell me it was a straight up lie.
That Luke still isn’t real.
But it doesn’t matter that he’s not real. The legend is real. Luke goes full legend so that the story of Luke’s last stand would inspire the next generation of nobodies. They’re out there, cleaning stables, playing with his action figure.
Among those children, one of them can make his broom levitate to his hand.
The Jedi knights don’t own the Force. NerdMAGA Geekholes don’t own Star Wars. And as we grow up, this story can mature too without us losing sight of what brought us to Star Wars in the first place.
Star Wars lives with that little girl, that little boy, making lightsabers out of brooms.